AP Change Reflects Broader Debate Over “Illegal Immigrant” Term


As Congress debates the possibility of legalization for 11 million immigrants, a more basic question has emerged in the nation’s newsrooms and beyond: what to call those immigrants, says the Los Angeles Times. Most news organizations have long used the term “illegal immigrant,” which some people find offensive. They prefer “undocumented,” arguing that “illegal” is dehumanizing and lumps border crossers with serious criminals. Some view “illegal immigrant” as tantamount to hate speech and refuse to utter it, referring only to the “I-word.” This week, the Associated Press revised its influential stylebook and jettisoned “illegal immigrant,” reversing a decision from six months earlier. The AP did not offer an exact replacement, instead recommending that writers fully describe a person’s immigration status. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, which have been discussing the question internally for months, have indicated that they will soon issue their own edicts. The Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, which supports deportation and opposes legalization, reacted to the AP’s decision by adopting a new term of its own: “illegal invader.” “Immigrant” should be reserved for people who came to this country legally, said William Gheen, the group’s president. “It’s the most run-amok PC thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Gheen said of abandoning the “illegal immigrant” usage. “It’s political correctness on steroids.”

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